Animation: Emotional Communication

If a picture tells a thousand words, can a moving one tell a million? Until recently CGIs (computer generated images) were the most potent way of visually communicating products that don’t yet exist. But the future in communicating design ideas adds motion to images to create CG animations.

Over the last two years, Cobalt has expanded our in-house expertise and equipment to be able to create compelling CG animations. Essentially our CG team use the same process, tools and software as motion picture producers like Pixar or large animation specialists creating advertising and entertainment material. Unlike them, we focus on making the product the hero and our lead character. That is, products that are either newly developed by us or based on our client’s existing products.

A common example of the type of animation Cobalt produce is the pre-flight airline safety videos which increasingly use CG animation rather than videos of real models in planes.

CG animations go beyond a snapshot of what something looks like; they can tell a product’s own story. Done well, they can emotionally engage with viewers through the narrative of the unfolding story being told.

Applications

Although sales and marketing applications are the most obvious use of CG animations, the full list includes:
  • Marketing (website, tradeshows, e-brochures)
  • Pre-Marketing (attracting investor funding or commercial interest)
  • Training (especially relevant for training operators to use complex equipment or devices)
  • User instructions (watched over the web, or a DVD supplied with the product)
  • Service manuals or manufacturing assembly work instructions (used in manufacturing or by technicians to rapidly communicate assembly etc.)

CG animations cut across language, culture and mechanical understanding. Unlike reading a technical drawing, viewers won’t ever misinterpret the form or detail of a moving 3D image. And unlike live-footage videos, CG animations also allow the impossible to be shown as easily as the obvious. For example, parts can become translucent, or move, transform or appear in ways they never could in real life. CG animations are about creating a pure story (narrative) in which the product is the leading character.

Our Process

After understanding the purpose and context, Cobalt’s typical process in developing CG animations includes:
  • Creating an initial storyboard where we illustrate key elements and sequences of the animation. This allows our clients to see our ideas and make changes and improvements before ‘signing-off’ to the next step.
  • Development then shifts firmly across to our high-end animation software, 3D StudioMax, where we import existing 3D CAD models into a scene and assign materials to the surfaces.
  • We then define camera, part and lighting movements and effects as per the agreed storyboard which forms the first draft
  • Finally, after feedback from our client, we make final modifications, often to the timing and transitions as well as finishing touches like subtitles, intro and end sequences as well as adding music or narration.

Depending on the context CG animations can look real, deliberately made to look conceptual or anywhere in between. CG animations make the unreal appear real. They cut through to command attention, and no doubt we’ll be seeing more and more of them.
For more product animation samples, click here to visit the Cobalt Channel